Billy: Ben Hicks Hitting Big Plays
After getting beaten up against Temple, Ben Hicks wasn't sacked against Tulsa, but did miss on a few big play opportunities. Whether it was drive-killing drops or just over throws, Hicks needs to hit the big play. SMU has had a few opportunities to make game-changing plays and the team hasn't hit them. Hicks needs to do a better job of giving his teammates a chance to make a play rather than potentially earn the penalty. If SMU collectively as an offense can get more explosive plays out of the team, it'll open up running lanes and help the team a huge amount in games. Right now, it's just short passing game and running game for SMU. It needs the downfield explosive plays.
Patrick: Improved Linebacker Play
SMU’s offense has struggled, and it’s fair to point to that as the main factor in a 2-4 start. Defensively, SMU has improved from last season, but I’m going to focus there for a mid-season change: SMU has to get better play from its linebackers. Coming into the season, linebacker looked like SMU’s weakest spot defensively. That’s been the case through six games. Too often linebackers are late to fill gaps in run defense, leading to big plays. They have to react faster and stop peeking in the backfield. Against the pass, at times they’ve been late to cover seam routes and intermediate routes coming across the middle of the field. They have to do a better job of diagnosing and reading play action. The defense has been on the field a lot this year and SMU still needs better play from all its defensive units if it wants to drop its yard allowed per game. But linebacker play is the most noticeable area for improvement. SMU has to get more consistency from its current linebackers and continue to develop depth.
Scott: Offensive Line Play
As SMU's competition got better through the course of the beginning of the season, it became apparent the Mustangs' offensive line needs to make significant improvements heading into the second half of the season. A lot of it has to do with injuries because the unit is banged up, especially after the Tulsa game, but we saw against Temple that guys like Chauncey Briggs, Bryce Wilds and others were simply over matched. With Matt David and Darrel Colbert already hurt, SMU cannot afford to lose Ben Hicks to injury as well. To prevent that, it starts with the boys up front. Coach Morris has pointed out in the past the guys know what to do in terms of their blocking assignments, but they have to execute now, or younger guys like Kadarius Smith and Jacob Todora could have their red shirts burned.
Hatts: Running Game Consistency
With multiple talented running backs on the roster, this figured to be one of the strengths of this SMU roster. At times it has been good, but has also struggled with the loss of Xavier Jones and some of the offensive line injuries like Daniel McCarty, Chad Pursley and Nate Natour. Heading into the second half of the year, those on the offensive side of the ball have to figure out a way to run the ball better and take some pressure off Ben Hicks. The offense could certainly help itself out by converting more third and short runs on the ground whether it be with West, Freeman or even Carmouche. Running the ball requires the lineman and backs to be in sync, they can use this bye week to do that and make running the ball a strength in the second half of the year.
Demo: Finish More
SMU needs to finish more—whether that is finishing a defensive stand by getting off the field on third down or getting a touchdown out of a trip in the red zone. SMU is allowing opponents to convert nearly 40 percent of their third down attempts. The Mustangs have also allowed six out of ten conversions on fourth down. This is a situation where the defense can help itself, and spend less time on the field, by bowing up on third downs. As for SMU inefficiencies in the red zone, the Mustangs have just eight touchdowns to show for 26 trips inside the 20 yard line. Ten other times, they have settled for field goals, and eight times they’ve come up empty. Good football teams find ways to finish, and that is what SMU must do in the second half of the season.
Phil: Special Teams
The Mustangs have struggled on special teams so far this season. TCU punt return man Desmon White had his way with the Mustangs’ coverage, totaling 74 yards on three returns, and consistently giving TCU’s offense a short field to work with. SMU has been gashed on kick returns against both Liberty and Tulsa, as both of those teams averaged over 30 yards per kick return and brought the ball into SMU territory. Against Tulsa the Mustangs’ kick coverage struggled so much that Chad Morris had Josh Williams squib the ball, rather than taking the chance of allowing another big return. Meanwhile, SMU has not had much success when the ball is being kicked to them. James Proche and Kevin Johnson have given then practically nothing on returns, as their longest return of the season is a 34 yarder by Johnson against UNT. Kicker Josh Williams and punter Jamie Sackville have both been unspectacular. Williams has made his chip shots but is just 2-4 on field goals past 30 yards, and Sackville is averaging just 40 yards per punt. The Mustangs have more pressing issues, but improved special teams could provide them with a boost in the second half.